this is a re-working of my old ‘crappy jobs, part 2’. in it’s new form there are new added bits plus the old stuff. it veers around a bit but i think you’ll find it amusing if not interesting.
i grew up here in southern california. east of los angeles in the heavily dreaded inland empire. yeah, the butt of many jokes. though it wasn’t so bad back when i was a kid. still pretty much farm land and dairy farms as well. the farms and grapes are gone. the dairies are damn near gone. new tract homes being worth way to much money to leave things bucolic. however, on an overcast morning you can still smell the cow shit in the air. breathe deep. atom heart mother. i still love the smell of cow shit in the morning. it smells of youth and long ago dead dreams.
beginning in the early 1900’s grape vineyards made their arrival to southern california. the italian half of my family worked in the vineyards and wineries here starting in the 1920’s and earlier. this would be in guasti. everyone in the family worked at a winery for years or just off and on over the years. including myself. my norwegian father even got into the italian winery action for many years starting right after ww2. most of the family were working there when secondo guasti was around.
i got into the winery work much later in life. after my time in nam and a few half ass stabs at doing whatever other work didn’t work out. it may have been the drugs but i don’t know. plus golf always seemed to be calling me out to hit some balls around. or the beach beckoned. or…yeah, a wasted life for sure. but that’s for another time. today is for shitty winery jobs. damn, i had a few.
i grew up going into wineries. back in the day when they were for the most part still redwood fermenting tanks and storage tanks. another atom heart mother smell from a long ago time. you could tell just from the smell of the cellars if the wine was any good or not. sure you could taste it but the oozing wine from the old redwood tanks had a smell. that smell told you what the wine would taste like. that taste of smell that hung in the air like a rain sodden cloud. um, yeah, nothing like it.
more to the point. like anything else there are really crappy jobs involved with producing anything. producing wine has a large number of those shitty jobs. i think the worst job i had was washing down the floors in the fermenting tank area of this one old grape crushing plant where i worked for one crushing season. we had to do it 2 or 3 times a day. at least. in the crushing stage making wine is not a clean job. we had tons of granulated chlorine which we had to sprinkle liberally on the the wet floor and then we had to brush the shit around. wafting chlorine gas is not an atom heart mother smell. no. more like the trenches of world war one. after the brushing we hosed the floors down with water.
any the ways this nasty job was for brookside winery. their main office was in guasti. they had purchased the property from the last company that couldn’t make a go of it. brookside eventually folded as well. the other nasty jobs in the blog are from my time at brookside as well.
more world war one trench warfare was the addition of sulfur gas to the fermenting wines. dragging a small tank of the stuff up to the top of a tank and sending the gas down a tube to do it’s job. of course, at some point you couldn’t help but get a very unhealthy hit of the stuff. guess i’m lucky to still be alive in more ways than one.
then there’s the clarifying of some white wines with powdered carbon during the fermentation process or just after. or maybe it was to help clear up a red wine at times. i forget. maybe either one. what i haven’t forgotten was dumping bag after bag of powdered carbon into a mixing machine that pumped it into a huge wine tank. a dirty nasty job for sure. a photo of a coal miner after a day in the mines would give you a similar picture of what i looked like after doing that job.
you can’t have a winery without doing the job that cleans out a fermentation tank after everything has been pumped out and sent off to the next tank in the process. the crushing plant had huge stainless steel tanks for fermentation and in the building where the floors had to be kept spotless there were concrete settling tanks. kinda like bunkers. the size of large enclosed swimming pools. they were occasionally used for fermentation as well. once they were properly aired out and the co2 was gone. hopefully. you went inside with a hose and washed the damn thing down in order to get it ready for the next batch. it was endless. washing the floors washing the tanks. over and over.
the fermentation tanks were scary. they could be very deadly as well. back when my dad was working in the olden winery the tanks were redwood and wide open like a swimming pool. there were narrow redwood catwalks going over them. he watched a fellow worker fall into one of the tanks while it was doing it’s thing. nothing could be done. with temperatures well over 200 degrees and enough co2 in the air to kill an elephant the man was pretty much asphyxiated and boiled to the death. very quickly.
fast forward to my time doing similar work. the cement bunkers when used for small batches of grape fermentation had to be well ventilated with fans before we went in them with a hose to wash them down. one of my fellow workers said the tank was ok and started down a ladder into the tank. he only made it about 3 or 4 rungs down. then he started to pass out from the co2 still in the air. lucky for him another guy and myself were watching. we both managed to grab his belt and we hauled him up and out of the tank. he was shaken up but ok. you never went into a fermentation tank unless someone was watching you the first few minutes. very dangerous.
the pure physical labor of dragging pumps and hoses everywhere to pump wine in various stages from one tank to the next. a rats nest of hoses and pumps. all of these activities at a break neck pace because it was the time of the crush. the window when the grapes are at their peak and the time of year where, even here in socal, a rain would ruin everything. mind and body numbing work. i’m sure lung ruining work as well.
i love the smell of the wineries. i love a good glass of vino or 3. hell, even a sorta good glass of vino or 4. i love it all so much i would probably still be doing winery work of some sort to this day, had something not happened late one afternoon long ago. something that i’m sure, got me added to the lil old winemakers, black book. the book where if you are in the fucker, you are forever more screwed, winery wise.
the big boys, the winery owners, had some special grapes coming in. white ones. not many, just enough for a special pressing. a few thousand gallons of vino or less. for some reason the usual workers weren’t available for overtime or something or the swing shift guys were going to be busy doing something else. any the ways, i was asked if i would run the crushing machine for that special load. sure, no problem. i’d done it a few times and it was just pushing a button to start it and stop it. plus keeping an eye on things. yeah, no problem. sure. uh, ha.
things were going well. just fine. i left my post and wandered to the back of the machine where the other guys were loading the grapes. this was a sorta usual trip as the machine was so loud you really couldn’t hear anything and if there was problem at the other end you needed to know about it. perhaps i dawdled a bit longer than i should have. yeah, when i got back to where i belonged a good portion of the special load of now crushed grapes was all over the concrete outside the machine. this would also include a good portion of the grape juice. yes, indeed, a major fuck up. i really don’t know what happened to the special stuff or even if it was still usable. we shoveled it back into the machine and it went on it’s way.
however, the boys were not happy campers. i’m not sure how i avoided instant death. or a ride out to someplace very private. i made it through the rest of the crush season and even got some side work later in the warehouse in guasti. over the years when i’d occasionally apply for other winery work someplace here in california, it was always the same. not even a no thanks or we’ll get back to you or the usual mumblings of some h r person. just silence. dead silence.
music provided by, the art farmer quintet, ‘blame it on my youth’.